Spider punks from Long Beach

SPIDER_photo credit__David Vchi

Photo: David Chi

One of my favorite parts of making GR was reviewing music. I hear you can check out new songs really easily online these days, but plowing through a stack of brand-new or yet-to-be-released CDs and flipping through their booklets in front of a hi-fi was so much better.

I was pretty stoked when, out of the blue, a friend of a friend offered to send me an advance CD from his band that I’ve been interested in. Old school punk with ties to Channel Three? I’m down!

After cranking Spider’s Best Of EP about a dozen times–not hard to do partially because it’s no-BS punk ‘n’ roll but also due to the fact that it’s only six songs–I had some questions for singer Hector Martinez and he had answers.

That’s so badass to have a “best of” release with only six songs. How did it come to be?

Haha! Thanks, man. Our original CD which came out in 2001 is out of print and we wanted to release something. So we figured, what the hell! We’ll do an EP that features the best of Youth Insurance. I don’t think anyone really heard it back when it came out, the band broke up soon thereafter, and it really never had the push it deserved. Plus the Internet was really at its infancy at the time, so it kinda came out and disappeared without much fanfare.

Why six songs? Well, I read somewhere that the focused attention span of an audience for a live performance of a band is around 20 minutes. After that, it gets a little monotonous. I tend to agree with this sentiment.

Some of the greatest punk albums have clocked in at 30 minutes or less. One of our all-time faves, Group Sex by Circle Jerks, is only 15:25 long. Less is more, indeed! So we decided to keep it quick and dirty, and pare it down to our personal favorite Spider songs. The total time for the release is around 18 minutes, so we’re right on the mark.

I really dig the creepy crawl of “Shooting Stars” (is it about astronomy or junkie celebrities?) shifting into the trashy riffs of “Get Caught” (with its got loose Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators vibe) but what’s the one song out of the six that you think new ears should listen to first?
“Shooting Stars/Get Caught” is a stream-of-consciousness tune written in a lockout studio in Whittier when the band first started solidifying. At the time, I was reading a lot of Bukowski and living in the studio with our bass player. We had no kitchen and one small window in the bathroom. Absolutely no sunlight ever came into the place. (Maybe that’s where the Johnny Thunders/Stiv Bators vibe comes from?) It was no kind of living environment that you’d want to spend any sort of extended time in. We lasted for six months under those conditions, but we came up with some good songs. Eventually, I had to get the fuck out of there. I was going crazy.

Folks really like “Shooting Stars/Get Caught,” but if I were to pick, I’d start with “PCE.” It has a dark, rhythmic creep factor vibe all its own.

How long have you been playing together? Where do the guys come from?
I was born and raised in Compton. Karl Izumi (guitar) and founding member and original drummer Al Silva (who appears on the recordings) are from Cerritos, and Steve Westerkamp (bass) is from Long Beach. Our current drummer is longtime friend Mikki Crash, who’s from Corona. Our home base now is pretty much Long Beach.

Spider formed around 1997, broke up in 2001. Regrouped for a few shows between 2005 and 2006, disappeared, then regrouped in 2015, when our good friend Mike Magrann (CH3) was putting together a show featuring bands from the Cerritos area. Members of Spider and CH3 go way back. We (me, Karl, Steve) were the kids attending all the backyard parties CH3 played at in the early early ’80s. They were about 5 years older than us, and we always looked up to them. As the years went by, we became good friends and are still very tight to this day.

Spider is very much a band built on friendships. I’ve known Steve since 6th grade and Karl since 9th grade. I’m fortunate to be able to be in a band today with my best friends. It really is the best thing in the world. I recommend it to everyone. Fuck it, just do it everybody: Start a band with your friends!

This incarnation of the band has been our most focused and successful effort. Our chops are better, our shows are better, and we’re getting legit love from promoters, booking agents, the press, new fans, etc. We’re playing some great shows, too. We played the Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach last year, we’re doing Punk Rock Bowling this year, and we just secured a spot playing with GBH in August, so, yes, things are going great! We’re working on new songs and are just gonna keep going. I don’t see any end in sight. We’re in such a good place right now, and we’re just enjoying each moment.

I love the dark-tinged punk that recalls The Damned, T.S.O.L., Mad Parade… Did it take a while to arrive at your style or was it something you’ve had since the beginning?
Thanks. You know, I really love that tinge too. We love The Damned and T.S.O.L!  I think our earlier material when we first first started writing was  more melodic, then we found our edge when Karl joined the band.

Is it hard to work at a punk label and be in a punk band?
Not at all! You know my first love was punk rock, we (me, Karl, Steve) are part of that second wave of So. Cal punk that took shape around 1980. I’m very fortunate that today I get to work with bands like Bad Religion, Descendents, and Social Distortion on a professional level. These are bands I used to go see at Godzillas, Cathay De Grand, and Dancing Waters as kid in search of the truth! These bands were the essential DNA of the early California punk rock days. I later went to law school and fed my left brain and, now, to be able use my visceral punk rock ethos right brain in connection with my job (licensing sound recording copyrights for use in film, TV, and video games) has been a blessing. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.

I’m always stoked by highly educated people who stay punk: Graffin, Aukerman, Escalante… Are the sides complementary? Do you have to turn off the logical or legal side of your brain when working on songs or lyrics?
You know what, man? I’ve been fortunate. My parents have always extolled the virtues of going to school in me since I was a kid. I kinda didn’t have a choice. My parents were migrant farm workers picking crops in their early years and also worked the sweatshops of the Dickies factories in the early ’50s. They know backbreaking, soul-sucking labor firsthand and wanted more for their kids. To them school was the way out to break the cycle of poverty. I’m indebted to them immensely for their guidance and advice.

As far as punk rock goes, I found the same vibe in punk as I did when I studied philosophy and the Socratic method. Whether it was Keith Morris or Socrates, I always connected with the concept of questioning authority and getting down to the essence of the truth. So, yes, they are definitely complementary. When Spider took its last hiatus, I double downed on my legal studies and got a second law degree (LLM) in intellectual property law. As part of that work, I wrote a law review article about Section 203 of the Copyright Act and the termination of grant of sound recording copyrights which very much has punk rock as the backdrop.

I’ve noticed I do have to turn the volume down on the logical/legal side of my brain as we write new material. I need to stay visceral with the band.  My legal/logical brain goes back online when I check into work and have to negotiate/review a contract. Right now, it’s about navigating the paradox.

How has punk rock informed you in ways other than art or aesthetics? Also, was there ever a time when you stopped being in a band, going to shows, or listening to punk?
There’s a lot of the same ethos in punk and philosophy; questioning things and getting to the truth are very important to me.

There was a time when I took a break from the band and going to shows. It was about 10 years ago, when I stopped drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. I completely stopped polluting my body and stopped going out for years. I really didn’t want to be distracted from being clean.  I eventually started working out and reconnected with my friends, and now I guess fitness is my biggest vice. I’m a work in progress, I’ll have a drink now and then, but no drugs and no smoking at all anymore. That shit is so bad for you. It’s behind me now.

Getting into shape physically has really helped me mentally, and now that I look back it was integral to reforming Spider. We are putting on the best shows now and firing on all cylinders. I’d hate to half-ass it. I’d rather not do the band if I couldn’t give it my all physically.

What’s driving Spider? Doing rad stuff with friends? Writing cool songs? Getting on cool bills? Hitting the road and going to new places?
Spider is really an expression of our collective DNA. Doing rad stuff with friends definitely fuels the fire: being creative with your friends and creating something out of nothing… Holy shit, how cool is that!?

Getting on cool bills is the best too. Playing with our idols, getting their positive feedback–this is all good stuff. Life is good.

Our goal is to start doing targeted touring: going up north hitting the East Coast, and hitting Europe in short, effective blasts. All roads are open as far as we’re concerned.
Also, release of the S/T EP will coincide with our performance at our Punk Rock Bowling show at The Bunk House. We thought that’d be a really cool event to premiere it at. So here we are!

So do you play all-ages matinees for kids or what?
Yes, yes, and yes.

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See Spider with Alice Bag, The Avengers, and Weirdos at PBR in Las Vegas and then stalk them on Facebook.

Save Music in Chinatown 12 preview with The Alley Cats

The other day, someone asked me how we have persuaded so many legends of L.A. punk to play our humble little Save Music in Chinatown benefits: Chuck Dukowski Sextet, Mike Watt & The Missingmen, The Gears, Adolescents, Channel Three, FourEyedFour with members of the Flyboys, The Crowd, Ford Madox Ford with Chip from the Dils, Rikk Agnew Band… I still can’t believe my nine-year-old daughter gets to see bands like that.

In this case of our upcoming show on May 7, how did we get the original Dangerhouse punk band the Alley Cats to volunteer their time? Well, I’ve attended all of their shows at Cafe NELA over the last year like a groupie, had mutual friend Laurie Steelink introduce me to surviving/lifer member Randy Stodola while buying a T-shirt at a solo show in San Pedro, shared zines and flyers at other shows, and invited them to previous Save Music in Chinatown gigs. But it probably didn’t hurt when Tony Adolescent re-introduced me to Randy online, saying that The Alley Cats would be a perfect fit for one of our shows. I agreed.

So there you have it: Shameless, endless groveling and friends with big hearts.

Here’s a short Q&A with Randy, April Cady, and Matt Laskey to get you excited about the twelfth Save Music in Chinatown show (with Tabitha, Schizophonics, and My Revenge featuring Hector from The Zeros, as well as a reading by Alice Bag), going over The Alley Cats’ history in Chinatown and L.A. punk as well as its current lineup and new music…

MW: Got any thoughts about coming back to play in Chinatown, right across the plaza from the old Hong Kong Cafe and Madame Wong’s?
RS: Kinda funny but we did our first show at Madame Wong’s with The Zeros and our first show at the Hong Kong with The Bags… I’m excited for Matt and Apryl to be able to play there. It’s a cool part of town and it’ll be a new experience for them. I think it will be fun.

MW: Was the Alley Cats’ first show really with The Zeros in Chinatown?
RS: No, it wasn’t the Alley Cats’ first show. It was the first punk show in Chinatown. We played the first punk show at Madame Wong’s and later the first punk show at the Hong Kong. Actually, we were the first punk band to play a lotta places.

MW: You also played the infamous Elk’s Club Riot show with The Zeros. Was it as intense as people say?
RS: Yes. As the band before us was finishing, Dianne and I were sitting on the wide stairway that was packed with people and lead from the lobby up to the theater. Suddenly, a phalanx of police in full riot squad gear lined up in the lobby and, on signal without warning or provocation, suddenly charged up the stairway slamming people with batons and heavy flashlights. Dianne and I started running up the stairs as soon as we saw the police show up, so we were able to escape ahead of the onslaught, unharmed. But some people had broken bones and many were bloody.

I have never seen a group of peaceful people who weren’t protesting or doing anything at all suddenly be attacked in that way, without even a hint of warning. And since they did not warn the promoter or anybody else that they were closing down the show, the security thought that all these people suddenly running up the stairs were trying to crash the show and tried to hold them back. So people were trying to escape being attacked by cops on one side and were being stopped the hired security on the other.

The cops’ excuse was a claim that an drug undercover agent at the show had been verbally threatened by someone. I guess they needed an army of police to beat and attack everybody who happened to be there to rescue him, but the kids (there were something like a thousand people at the show) quickly reassembled in MacArthur Park and started throwing bottles and rocks at the cops (who, according to the media, eventually numbered 500) who were chasing them around. Helicopters flying overhead, cop car windows breaking, people yelling and screaming, loud bullhorn announcements over and over declaring that everyone had to leave the park or be arrested—it went on for hours.

MW: I love that you have not only regrouped the Alley Cats, but have such great chemistry and play often. Can you tell me how long this combo has been playing together?
RS: We have been playing together a little less then three years, I think. Both Matt and Apryl are wonderful talented people, and I am blessed to know and play music with them.

MW: Matt and Apryl, what’s the best thing about being an Alley Cat?
ML: Best thing is playing in a band I absolutely love; it’s all I ever wanted to do.

AC: I guess my favorite part of joining the Alley Cats would be playing music with good friends that come with meeting Randy and Matt, and all of the other people we play with and all of the adventures we have been through. There have been many adventures.

MW: Is it true that you are both transplants from the same hometown in Pedro?
AC: That is not entirely accurate. Randy and I both lived in Fargo for a part of our lives. Neither of us were born there, but it is a pretty cool coincidence.

MW: It seems to me like you sing in your own, cool style. Do you get some direction from Randy or do you just go for it?
AC: Alley Cats style singing is not very natural for me but I just try to go for it.

MW: Matt, do you try to stay true to the recordings or do you just go for it?
ML: I try to stick to the recordings, I love the songs, so why try and change anything? They’re awesome how they are.

MW: There are so many Alley Cats and Zarkons songs to choose from, and I love the sets you’ve been playing. How did the Avengers cover get in there?
RS: Always liked “We Are the One,” and it seemed appropriate to come after “House of Cards,” which is a new song. Actually 40-50 percent of our set are songs that were never recorded by the Alley Cats.

MW: Does that mean you have new songs ready to record?
RS: Yes…

MW: Our show is raising funds for music education at the elementary school in Chinatown. Can you share how you started to play an instrument and what it’s meant to you?
AC: Music is the most inspirational part of my life. I played in the high school marching band and I enjoyed that. I started playing guitar and bass when I was in high school, too, and it has always been something for me to relieve anxiet. I wish I could do it all the time. I love seeing young people getting excited about music and am looking forward to our show to raise funds for music education in Chinatown.

RS: When I was about 5, my sisters who were 7 and 9 years older then me, both got guitars and a book with first-position chords. But they never played them, so I borrowed them and learned the chords from the book. Not having any songs to play, I wrote my own. No record player, no song books, no one else to play music with or teach me—I didn’t have much choice isolated out in the country in North Dakota and then Upper Michigan. But I think that maybe that made it funner for me, just playing for myself many hours a day, alone just for fun. And it is still fun. It’s hard to quantify what it has meant to me, but I was lucky to have an instrument available to play at such a young age. Can’t play music unless you got something to play it on.

Follow the band at facebook.com/AlleyCatsSOB and get tickets for Save Music in Chinatown 12 at eventbrite.com.

Q&A with Ghost Magnet Roach Motel’s Shinpei Takeda (LAAPFF on Wednesday, May 3)

In my past life, I’ve supported attended film festivals as a writer, judge, and participant. And now I just go for fun. I love independent, underground, and international movies–not to mention pretty much every trashy genre flick and a handful of arty ones–and how cool is it to watch them with a crowd of like-minded fans? I hate watching on a laptop and actually borrow DVDs from the library to watch on TV if I have to.

So I was stoked and flattered when friends at the Los Angeles Asian American Pacific Film Festival reached out to me and asked if Save Music in Chinatown would be a community sponsor for Ghost Magnet Roach Motel, an art-damaged documentary by a Japanese guy about a noise band from San Diego and Tijuana. First, we achieved “community” status? Second, sign us up!

I took advantage of the situation to hassle director Shinpeil Takeda about his movie, his band, his art, and his life for posting purposes. What an interesting human being, and I look forward to meeting him and perhaps seeing some of you at the screening at the CGV Cinemas in Koreatown on May 3 at 9:30 pm.

Explain your international background. Where did you grow up and how did you become a visual artist?
I was born in Osaka, Japan. Because of my salaryman father, who moved to different places for his company, we lived in Düsseldorf, Germany for 5 years (where I’ve spent half of my time for the last 3-4 years) and Chicago for few years. Then I went back to Japan for most of my adolescence but went to North Carolina to study geology.

After that, I went to San Diego to start a nonprofit and earn a master’s degree in organizational theories. I founded and ran the AJA Project, which I am still involved in, but I got tired of it and also my relationships in the United States or maybe SoCal or maybe just my immediate surroundings, and moved to TJ.

When I crossed the border, I discovered something else about human relationships—different notions of family, individuality, and collectivity, and so on–that are augmented by the damn geopolitical psycho cultural border… That is one of the big themes in the movie.

That was almost 12 years ago in 2005. When I crossed the border, I started producing my first documentaries, images, and installations. I became artist and TJ was like my art school.

What exactly is your relationship and role with the band?
I am kind of the founder and producer, as well as a participating artist. The band started almost 12 years ago in San Diego and, when I started living in Tijuana, we got joined by some of the best visual artists of TJ (Daniel Ruanova, and Julio Orozco) along with the surviving members of the American side of the band (Brian Sweda and Tony Cozano).

When you started making the movie, was it to share the music or tell the band’s story?
This is my third feature-length movie. The first was called El Mexico mas cercano a Japan, about a Japanese photographer Kingo Nonaka who was the first documentary photographer of Tijuana in 1920s. The second was Hiroshima Nagasaki Download, a road movie in which young Japanese friends visit and interview the atomic bomb survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki living on the West Coast as they drive from Vancouver to Tijuana.

I wanted to make another movie with a different type of storytelling and very little or almost no critical distance since I would be very much a participant in it. I would have a very biased outlook but hoped that the intimacy of the work would make audiences get to the core of our human experiences and struggles existing in this world with borders in every dimension.

I think a traditional movie about a band is usually about its success, way to fame, and ups and downs—not about its music as sound. I wanted the movie to be another output of this project and an extension of what we do with our noise punkformance. In a way, all the protagonists of the film are punk-forming, living their lives and struggling but keeping up the punk spirit against the system and humanity’s decay.

What is “punkformance”?
Punk+performance

Who is your audience and how do you feel watching your friends onscreen?
I am still trying to understand who my audience is. Of course, my friends onscreen are important. I want them to see themselves on the big screen and see that their story is valid and important and how it can affect people. In a way, they represent different parts of myself and different possibilities. But I also respect each one of them as artists, and I think the film editing shows that however fucked up they are, there is always dignity.

The San Diego Latino Film Festival showed it, but the San Diego Asian film Festival didn’t take it. And now with the LAAPFF, I myself am trying to figure whose story it is. We will see.

How have your bandmates received it? Were they involved in the edits?
I had to run away from Tijuana to edit because it was too intense and I couldn’t see it from far away. So I got a grant in Düsseldorf, Germany, where I used to live as a kid, and worked on the film with a German editor. I wanted it to decontextualize it so that notions of addiction or borders could be much more universal rather than just alcohol or the specific border of TJ-SD.

I kept updating them with the edits, but most of them trusted me. It was natural and that is how we play music, too. We just trust each other and immediately make a wall of noise. They are cool artists, so I know they get it.

But even though I wanted to get them to come to the movies, when we showed the film in San Diego one member came drunk 10 minutes after the movie ended. In the movie, he goes to rehab but, as you can imagine, life is much more complex. Art cannot heal people, but I still believe art can change people.

Art is fragile and requires a lot of sensitivity, precisely because we are all artists and it isn’t easy for us to have our complete individual freedom yet produce something collectively. But that is what I think we achieve in the movie and in this project. That type of human relationships is very difficult to build in society.

Can we get back to the AJA Project and your work with refugee kids? What exactly is “participatory photography” and how do you use it to help them?
The AJA Project has been working with refugee kids (Afghani, Iraqi, Somali, Burmese, Syrians), as well as other marginalized kids (immigrant, homeless, teenage mothers, juvenile court system…) in San Diego. We teach not just technical aspects of photography but how to use it as a tool to tell stories and to communicate. Find your voice, use your voice, and raise your voice—that is the thing!

We do a big public exhibition of their work to create a full circle in which they can see that their photographs and stories are not only valid, but also important. They are in fact good documentarians because they see American society from the outside, just like how I saw the U.S. coming from other countries.

It is bit related to my band and Ghost Magnet Roach Motel in the essence of providing an outlet for your chaos.

That’s great, connecting the arts and the underground and empowering children with them.
For me, they are part of the same thing.

Stalk Shinpei Takeda at shinpeitakeda.com and purchase tickets for the Ghost Magnet Roach Motel screening on May 3 at the CGV Cinemas at festival.vconline.org. Enter the code SMC17 for discount pricing!

Save Music in Chinatown 12 preview with The Schizophonics

The Satellite, Los Angeles (February 22, 2017)

I distinctly remember the first time I saw The Schizophonics. Following the last day of the San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, a bunch of us went to see El Vez’s Punk Rock Review at Bar Pink and holy cow! The opening band was not only a red-hot, garage punk and soul dynamo but they actually played with the former Zero as well. I was in the front row, hoping my dropped jaw wouldn’t get detached by singer Pat Beer’s out-of-control guitar playing. Next, I saw them in Pomona, opening for the newly reformed Drive Like Jehu and they were just as sweaty, animated, and nearly impossible to take a decent photo of. Nonstop rock!

After seeing them rip it up with El Vez and then the Little Richards last summer, I finally got to see the proper lineup in quick succession at The Echo and Cafe NELA. At this point, I started saying hi to drummer Lety Beers and becoming friends with them on Facebook or else it wold be getting a little weird. One thing lead to another, and now the trio is one of two San Diego bands coming up to play our twelfth all-ages punk rock matinee on Sunday, May 7 to raise money for the music program at Castelar Elementary. The other commuters will be My Revenge with Hector from The Zeros–a real plate-of-shrimp development!

This is actually perfect timing, since The Schizophonics just released a 10″ EP and have a full LP about to drop. A perfect opportunity for a quick Q&A with Pat and Lety about their past, the new music, and the Save Music Chinatown cause. Plus bonus answers from bass player Brian Reilly.

Bar Pink, San Diego (July 21, 2013)

MW: The first time I saw Schizophonics was with the punk review with El Vez at Bar Pink! How did that bond form with him?
LB: At some point we made friends with Pony Death Ride, a San Diego duo that knows Robert. They took him to see us at Bar Pink and he really liked us. That is such a huge compliment coming from him, let alone him asking us to play with him. He does a Punk Rock Review that he wanted us to back him up in that’s composed of a lot of his early punk influences. That was the first time we ever went on tour and our first time we ever had such an intricate set to learn. He definitely has taught us to be a better band and taught us so much about putting a show together. He’s our band guru.

MW: Am I crazy or did you spell your name with a T back then? What happened to it? Have you come across people with tattoos with the old spelling?
LB: We DID! There is still a 45 out there on Munster Records with the old spelling. Then we realized there is no T in schizophrenic (and also wanted to get away from being called shitty) so we switched it to the correct spelling before we made more records and merch.

MW: Pretty sure the second time I saw your band was with Drive Like Jehu in Pomona. Do you feel like part of that whole tradition of San Diego underground music?
LB: I don’t see it as underground. We moved here in 2008 and didn’t know much about the music history until we started meeting talking to more people.

PB: That was a real honor because John Reis was a big influence on us when we started the band. His Swami radio show opened our eyes (or ears?) to how much cool unheard music is out there.

Glass House, Pomona (April 8, 2015)

MW: You play so often! Do you keep track of how many shows you’ve played so far? Who plays more, you or Mike Watt?
LB: Haha, they’re in my Google calendar or we’d be so lost!

MW: Your ratio of playing shows to releasing music is freakishly high. Is that on purpose? Is putting the songs on wax something you’re doing reluctantly or has it been a flood waiting to happen?
LB: When I joined this band I didn’t know how to play the drums, so I think some of that has been a learning curve with how to write and play songs to the point where we feel confident enough to record something we are happy with.

PB: The Ooga Booga 10” EP and Land Of The Living 12” LP are a mix of brand new songs and songs we’ve been doing live for a long time.

MW: The new EP is a real ass kicker! How did you split songs between it and the LP? What can we expect?
LB: The 10″ is a few of our older songs that we never really put out properly, along with a couple of new ones that we wanted to put on the Pig Baby release. “2017” was a riff that Pat had been working on that I really liked. I wanted to make sure the Pigs got that one.

PB: The two records have all different songs, and we didn’t want the 10″ EP to be like the songs that were left over after we did the album. So we wrote new stuff for that one until we had enough tunes we were happy with so both records to stand up on their own.

Cafe NELA, Los Angeles (December 17, 2016)

MW: What’s your secret to being on fire every single time for every single configuration (Schizophonics, El Vez, Little Richards, probably a ton of other bands I don’t know about)?
LB: Our favorite musicians and heroes are bands like Little Richard, James Brown, The Woggles, Iggy Pop, The Loons, and El Vez who, when they hit the stage, are like a bolt of lightning. That style of performance is what really moves us as music lovers so we draw so much inspiration from that.

MW: I think I told your about our show—how it’s for music education at an inner-city elementary school, how it is inspired by the punk rock tradition of the old Hong Kong Cafe. Got any thoughts about kids, music, life, and so on?
LB: We love seeing kids get into music!

PB: Music is one of the greatest things a person can have in their life. It carries you through the good and bad times, and it’s inspiring to see young people playing not just because they are the artists of the future, but because they are learning a skill that can give them peace of mind and strengthen their souls throughout their lives.

MW: I’m super excited about having you play our show and getting to see you on back-to-back days starting with Cafe NELA…
PB: So are we! Thank you for inviting us and thank you for all you do!

Cafe NELA, Los Angeles (December 17, 2016)

MW: Brian, can you tell us the best thing about being a Schizophonic?
BR: The best part about being a Schizophonic has got to be traveling and playing new cities. I’ve always been a bit of a wandering soul, so to get the best of both worlds is alright with me.

MW: Got any thoughts about music education, all-ages shows, and stuff like that?
BR: As far as my thoughts on kids in the music community, I’ve always loved it when a kid gets it and learns a new bit of music. Especially if it’s something heavy and on the garage vibe. I’ve been teaching kids for quite a while. To say it helps them form their identity would be a bold understatement. Find a kid that can mirror your playing and you’ll get a session player. Find one that can’t do what you’re doing? They’ll change rock and roll.

Find out more about the Schizophonics at schizophonics.com and get their brand-new 10″ EP from your favorite local record shop, pigbabyrecords.com, or the merch table. Get Save Music in Chinatown 12 tickets at eventbrite.com.

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A short Q&A with Charles Glaubitz, creator of the mind-blowing, psychedelic Kirby-meets-Zardoz graphic novel, Starseeds

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I was stoked when Charles Glaubitz reached out to me a few years ago. He asked me about the magazine I used to edit, and my response was that it had run its course but the self-published and signed copy of Crystal Sigil I bought from him at Comic-Con in 2010 was a prized possession that left a lasting impression on me. (Number 8 in an edition of 70!) We kept in touch and, more recently, he asked for my address and proceeded to send me his first release by Fantagraphics.

On the title page he jotted a note thanking me for reviewing his indie comic, adding that it had a role in the brand-new book I was holding. Wow. Sometimes I’ll jokingly say that Giant Robot magazine came and left like a fart in the wind, but a statement like that makes the waft smell pretty special!

I should mention that Starseeds is an incredible read. Cracking it open reminded me of being a teenager and having my mind blown by VHS tapes of psychedelic movies like Eraserhead, Zardoz, and 2001: A Space Odyssey, not to mention surreal Krazy Kat comix or Jack Kirby’s pop-art forays into the Negative Zone. How could I not ask Charles a few questions about it?

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How did you go from self-published comics to Fantagraphics?
My friend Jacob Covey is a designer and art director for them. I sent him my finished book asking him if he would be interested in designing it to self publish, and he forwarded everything to an editor friend who he loved it. I think he called it “a tour de force of visual imagination.” From there we planned of doing a 500-page first volume, but that made the book very expensive so we decided to do smaller books. The whole story is about 1,400 pages in five volumes.

The plot is wild, pitting otherworldly Illuminati against the universe and reality itself. Do you trip yourself out when you read the first published volume?
I have only read parts of it since it has been published, but I do trip out when I read it. I kinda get sucked into the experience of the art and words.

Did you know how the story was going to unfold or did it just flow out if your head and hands?
The story started with ideas I wanted to narrate, a beginning, and an end. From there, I developed the in-between stuff and let the characters and plot develop to reach the end. Starseeds was two separate stories that I blended together–the first being the Crystal Sigil and the second, Secret Societer.

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Are you into weird movies like Heavy Metal, El Topo, and Zardoz? Because I feel like I am in that sort of world when I read your comics.
Yes, absolutely. I love Jodorowsky’s work. It is very enigmatic, mystical, and transcendent. I haven’t watched Heavy Metal or Zardoz in a long time, but I watch a lot anime. I love Kaiba from Masaaki Yuasa as well as Ping Pong. I find them very magical.

Do you listen to music when you draw? I was thinking the Heavy Metal soundtrack, Fucking Champs, or Earthless…
Yeah, I do listen to music when I work: Tommy Guerrero, Daft Punk, Girlpool, Massive attack, Stereolab, Chicano Batman, Ramona and Jardín (Tijuana bands)… Kavinsky Nightcall seems to repeat a lot. When I work late at night, I listen to Coast to Coast AM.

I am gonna check out the bands you mentioned.

Does drawing and storytelling come easily to you? Have you been making comics for fun since you were a little kid or is it an art that you have been torturing yourself with for your entire lifetime?
It is something that is natural. I drew comics as a kid, and I have always told stories in my art work. Each series that I produce is a part of the narrative, may it be painting, drawings, etc., in a gallery setting. I thought that the audience would gravitate toward the narrative as it unfolded in my art and shows, and started making comics in 2010 with all the narrative from my gallery work.

I know a little bit about Tijuana bibles, lucha libre comics, and translated Marvel and D.C. comics in Mexico, but is there an underground, indie, or art school burnout scene too?
Growing up in Rosarito, I was pretty isolated from anything underground and read mainstream superhero comics–mostly Marvel. My mother had a pharmacy and I would read the translated comics from the stand. My father worked in San Diego, so every Friday he would stop by a comic shop and get me a bunch of books every week for years.

So when do we get to read the next volume of Starseed? Is there a schedule for the remaining books?
I am hoping to get the next chapter out around the same time next year, if not early summer. All I gotta do is keep on schedule and we should have a book every year…

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Stalk Charles at mrglaubitz.com and buy Starseeds from your local comic book store or fantagraphics.com.

Jon Moritsugu and Amy Davis on their return to Los Angeles: Anarchy in Asian America, March 24 at USC

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On Friday, March 24, indie filmmakers Gregg Araki, Roddy Bogawa, Marcus Hu, and Jon Moritsugu will be gathering at USC to talk about the state of underground Asian American cinema and other stuff. The free event will be followed by an after-party/concert including performances by my friends SISU and Low on High, which is Jon and his wife/partner in crime Amy Davis.

How could I not ask my pals Jon and Amy, who are behind such must-see movies as Fame Whore, Scumrock, and Pig Death Machine as well as killer garage rock, some questions leading up to the date? This is a rare and cool (and did I mention free?) event that everyone should be amped about. I know I am.

MW: It’s been ages since you were L.A.! What do you look forward to doing when you’re in town all the way from Santa Fe? Are you going to stay at the same fleabag motel on Sunset?
JM: We’re stoked to be returning to the palm-littered and glitter-dusted City of Angels! Totally excited about being able to party at sea level, lotsa oxygen, hanging with old friends, oxygen, and chowing down on some really rad Asian vittles (pho, halo halo, mochi, etc.) and, oh yeah, did we mention oxygen?! (Santa Fe is at 7000+ feet.)

Alas, Sunset Blvd scuzziness  of yore when we used to come down to La La Land to get sick-ass tattoos (Okay, only Amy) will have to ferment and bubble on without our presence. We miss bedbugs!

MW: When you go onstage with other filmmakers is it more like a summit meeting, Marvel Superhero Team-Up, or a UFC cage match?
JM: It’s more a fight between  highfalutin, intellectual, artsy thugs in a back alley combined with an earthquake of good vibes. Lotsa love, laughs, and high-fives with a dab of ball bustin’ and smidgen of gentle roasting.

MW: Do you know the other panelists very well? At film festivals, do you go to P.F. Chang’s together?
JW: I totally know Gregg, Roddy, and Marcus really well. We all met in the late ’80s when the underground/indie scene was pretty much bein’ born out of the vagina of the film universe. As far as Asian goes, I have never been to a P.F. Chang’s but I have experienced Brandi Ho’s, Benihana, and Panda Express–all very fine examples of ultra-authentic and undiluted “real” Asian cuisine.

AD: It’s so not fair that Jon never takes me to P.F. Chang’s! I wanna live! I wanna experience the Chang Mania!

MW: I’m extra-amped about seeing LOW ON HIGH again. Can you tell me how your garage rock band compares to your cinematic partnership? Similar, complementary, or therapy?
AD: Oh, I guess I’m taking this one… Dude. Man. It’s totally marriage style. Like how in a marriage you may be the boss of certain aspects–perhaps the cleaning or bills or cooking? Well, in the celluloid wonderland Jonny gets to rule and lord over me. Muse that I am, I allow it for his male ego, et. al. (Ladies, you know the games we play, wink wink.) Although I do have quite a huge impact and will cry on set if he doesn’t let me have some input, but with the rockin’…  Babies, that is all me! Me. Me. Me. I’m the rockstar and Jon is just like stage candy that bleeds and vomits out some yummy solos when I cue him. I am The Boss. Amy Springsteen, yo. Jon is just something pretty to ogle at on cue. He’s so fine. Right, honey?

JM: Yes, dear.

MW: Are you bringing merch? Can I bring money to buy the LOW ON HIGH 7″ single and a Pig Death Machine DVD at the show?
JM: We are bringing the entire merch booth: DVDs, CDs, vinyl, zines, T-shirts, buttons, the works! Fun fun fun. Glow in the dark, blood-splattered, and covered in sweet, lickable, underground pathos. Goofy pathos!

MW: Amy, do you get and wear free fancy clothes from your high fashion illustration gigs? Or are you just naturally fabulous?
AD: OMG. Yes, Martin. I do! Right now, I’m in an OFF WHITE tee and Chanel skirt with a Christian Cowan jacket and those sick sequin glitter YSL boots from AW 2017! You know the one Rhianna is rocking all over Paris? Plus oodles of $1,500 skin cream and $4,000 one-of-a-kind Creed perfume they made especially pour moi and they call it Beyond Amy: The Creamy Years.

Not! I get nada, baby! It’s all a labor of amore and I do love it so! I will still get some baby kine swag here and there but, nope, not the sick-ass cha-chinga swag. But being innocent, I never doubt that one day I’ll be spoiled rotten!

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MW: I seem to recall that your old hometown of San Francisco might have been famous for Day-Glo posters and psychedelic hallucinogens but Santa Fe turned out to be naturally rainbow-colored and trippy for you two. Is that accurate? Does it affect your art and filmmaking?
JM: Sante Fe’s lack of oxygen makes everything trippy! Coyotes, deserts, crushed sapphire, blue-blue-blue skies, and chile peppers so hot they’ll make ya so high and pass out–all that informs life here. Also, the filmmaking process. The immense space and big nature slow down your mind and help ya to connect to stuff more “relevant.”

That said, San Fran, too, had crazy fog and weirdo locations and, yes, the brighter-than-bright Day-Glo wonder that anything is possible. Amy and I were in our 20s and totally innocent. Now that we are way older, we try to regain that innocence and it’s harder than you’d think. Jaded angst of youth is  a pretty sweet and creamy flavor. If you have innocence and ambition and truth, you have it all.

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MW: In addition to making movies do you watch a lot of them? What are you into now?
JM: Oh yeah, we love movies. Everything from classics like Hell’s Angels (Howard Hughes’ 1930 magnum opus) to sparkly new stuff. Recent fav’s: Neon Demon, Nocturnal Animals, 20th Century Women. Plus weirdo TV crap like The Affair. We get hooked on the basic stuff. Face it, we are shamelessly basic!

MW: Pig Death Machine came out while ago. What’s cooking? C’mon you can tell us…
JM: We are in pre-production for brand new feature #8! We’re shooting in New Mexico this summer, and it’s a riff on the fine art/high art scene. Amy will be playing a totally fucked-up artist. Lotsa glitter, shimmer, obnoxious tunes, and posin’ plus blood, gore, laughs, and yucks.

AD: I really hope the costumer can get me those glittery boots…Folks. let’s all dream it: YSL boots for Amy! Livin’ the dream, lovin’ the scene!

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Stalk Jon and Amy at jonmoritsugu.com and amydavis.com and RSVP for both the talk and concert at visionsandvoices.usc.edu

The return of Slug!

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All band photos by Wild Don Lewis.

Worlds collided a few weeks ago when I introduced the legendary punk rocker Rikk Agnew to my friends and our hosts Steve and Max (a.k.a. Cyrano and Lotus) when we were guests on KXLU’s Molotov Cocktail Hour. I casually mentioned that Steve used to sing for a band called Slug, and Rikk immediately recalled being blown away by them at Bogart’s in Long Beach. In fact, he flashed back on them somewhat recently and had even dug up videos on YouTube. And then the very next day, the ex-member of the Adolescents and Christian Death sent me a text saying that he downloaded the recently remastered tracks on Bandcamp and to let Steve know that he was in Slug heaven!

I’m super excited about the return of Slug as well, fondly recall seeing them often in the ’90s when they were practically the house band at Jabberjaw. With a punk upbringing and indie work ethic but dimensions of industrial, noise, and dub, they could play with bands like Nation of Ulysses, Unsane, and Ruins as well as Fugazi. So how could I not ask Steve if he and some of the other guys would answer some questions about how the reissued music came to be, where the band is today, and whether or not they’ll ever get back together to play a show. And here are the answers.

The participants: Steve (vox), Todd (guitar), Michael B. (second bass), Tomas (drums).

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Martin: Why now?
Steve: The reissues of the Slug material is something that has been in the works for a while now.  It was just a matter of finally pulling all of the threads together. The biggest incentive was how 2016 marked the 25th anniversary since we released our first single. As time goes on, we had a growing desire to  archive the documentation of Slug in one central source. Revisiting the music, the artwork, photos, lyrics, etc

Tomas: Let’s just say we talked about re-releasing this material in a variety of ways, CDs, vinyl, etc. for quite a few years but the 25th anniversary concept gave us a hard target to work around. And thanks to Todd for really providing the spark to this project by setting up our website, Bandcamp, and other entities, Steve for scanning rare photos, Damion for compiling, engineering, and remastering contributions, and all the other band members for their input. It was definitely a group effort on a lot of levels, just as our songwriting from this period was.

Todd: Tomas drove this effort. We’ve been discussing these reissues since before I moved to NYC 14 years ago, and Tomas was always the one to relight the fire after years of inaction and distraction among all of us. He spearheaded our digital presence on Facebook, drove coordination alongside Steve with our Jabberjaw friends during their recent anniversary and book release, and worked with Bandcamp and his marketing contacts to get the word out on these reissues. It wouldn’t have happened without his perseverance.

Michael B.: I don’t know what got the rest of the gang to get this going, but I’m just happy to finally have digital copies of these… I don’t have a record player so it’s nice to be able to pull these up and force my kids to listen to how “Dad used to be cool… I swear, a few people actually liked us! No, I’m not making it up! Yeah, well you’re grounded!”

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Martin: How do the songs sound after not hearing them for a while?
Tomas: I think they do stand up. They were written in a certain atmosphere that suited the times with the available equipment and skills that we had, and given that few of us were trained musicians at all, these tracks sound original in their own way. We never had one aesthetic, like say noise rock or industrial noise as our anchor, we freely borrowed from tons of influences: experimental classical music, field recordings, ethic folk traditions, dub, industrial dance, punk, post-punk. It sort of all went in the Slug blender and came out as our sound. In my opinion, what I think really comes out now, is how solid Steve’s lyrics were. Sure, they were often buried in the denseness of our compositions, but reading them now, he captured the mood of our songs perfectly.

Todd: It’s interesting how some tracks sound very fresh to me and others I find haven’t aged as well, and some are even combinations of both. “Diesel” was an unreleased track we’d recorded in one of our first sessions and I hadn’t heard it in a long time. It’s a product of the time in many ways–musically it captured all of us really well at that early point in our evolution, with Tomas’ excellent fractured rhythms, a good mix of the various bass and guitar sounds we’d been hashing out, and Steve’s great lyrics railing on the then-raging Gulf War. But it also has a few elements in the mix I’m less certain of, like the machine gun sound effects at the outset and the dual vocal tracks that I remember thinking were great at the time but now sound a bit dated to me. All that said, I love the track and I’m really glad it has joined the others are out in the world.

Steve: Some definitely sound different than I remember. I think some aged pretty well, and others I hardly even remembered. And yes, aspects of “Diesel” are a little cheesy, but I think that song has a heart.  It’s been a strange voyage of discovery to hear something you were a part of (even the sound of my voice) and come back to terms with it so many years later. I’m still stoked on everyone’s playing–the inventive and deceptive rhythms of Tomas, the towering power of the basses, and fuzzy, murderous slices of guitars. It’s great to hear the alternate mix of Swingers, emphasizing different instruments and with added vocals from Carla Bozulich and Beth Capper.

Michael B.: I’d always been frustrated by how our recorded output never matched our live sound but Damion did a great job beefing them up, so to speak. My playing is a bit more buried in the mix which is a good thing because I was the least talented of any of the members.

Martin: Are there songs you didn’t like then that you really dig now? Vice versa?
Michael B.: “Diesel.” I didn’t even recognize it as one of our songs. It took a few listens to finally get the recognition brain cells firing and it is much better than I remembered as it was my least favorite of our stuff. Vice versa? “Horrible Skull.” It used to be my favorite song of our set in the early days and was bummed when everyone voted to drop it from our sets. Now I hear it and just kind of think “Eh.”

Tomas: Personally, as the drummer, I was pushing the band to play some of our early songs live when we played out, rather than just the newest things we’d written. There was some tension around that, but we did succeed in playing some early material, like “Elevator,” from time to time, and I really love the intensity of our earliest compositions. I liked the early tracks then, and I still like them now.

Steve: I always felt like it was impossible to capture our sound on record, but I’m not ashamed of anything. These two releases include the earliest recordings committed to vinyl, and I love the immediacy of them. I hope people can appreciate our raw imperative to make a ruckus and not fuss over it. There were no wrong answers in Slug and everyone’s contributions were valid. I always thought there  was an unspoken aesthetic with our band that we all understood and maintained — instinctively there were things we did or just did not do.  perhaps in collectively shaping our sound, we defined it. Thankfully, I think this process kept us progressing and changing all the way through our lifespan as a band.

Going back and listening to things like “Horrible Skull” or the whole “Sore Thumb” single, I think there’s a youthful urgency and, at times, an almost naïve charm to them. Many times, we included moments of the humorous and absurd into our songs, as well as the obvious concussive waves of aggression and force. After we came up with “Godstopper,” it became our show closer, and it’s always been an icon of sinister menace and malice to me. Listening to it now, that songs seems to embrace my feelings of fear and loathing moving into 2017. As it was a 200 copy, tour-only single, I’m glad to see it out in the world.

Todd: Most of my mixed feelings have to do with the recordings themselves, some of which I’ve always liked more than others. I do wish we still had the studio tapes of some of the earliest recordings so we could go even deeper into remixing and cleaning up with modern digital tools, but that said I’m still happy with the way most of these tracks were captured and proud of what we did during this period.

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Martin: Is the music like a time machine? Therapy?
Tomas: The music is a reflection of our aesthetic at the time. We were DJs into found sound, tape collage, William S. Burroughs, Test Department, Hafler Trio, and Malian traditional music, as well as very loud extreme music, Japanese noise, frenetic punk, and industrial music. We had amazing peers and musicians in bands like Distorted Pony, Waldo the Dog Faced Boy, Oiler, and Unsane. We reflected the fractured politics of that time too, Bush 1’s disastrous Iraq campaign, the L.A. uprising, and post-Cold War reverberations. So the music was our reaction to what we were seeing, hearing, feeling, and experiencing, and we made that our art and our lifestyles. All of us were very much serious about living our music culture, supporting other bands, going to shows, putting on shows in backyards and other spaces, doing zines and faux propaganda missives. It was our collective statement as friends and artists.

Todd: Agree completely with Tomas’ assessment. It is great to hear these tracks and remember much of what was going on among us and how we captured those moments in these songs. One of my favorite tracks from this period, both then and now, is “Godstopper.” It’s probably the best snapshot of our energy during that period, having been recorded right before we kicked off our first national tour. It was also written/recorded right around the 1992 L.A. riots, an event that I believe strongly reverberated in our music at the time. Plus “Godstopper” was one of our first recordings in Tom Grimley’s Poop Alley–Tom’s influence on our recordings can’t be understated, and the mix of “Godstopper” is a great example of how well he honed in on what we were doing.

Steve: Listening to it now, it reminds me of a time when Tomas, Todd, and I were living together; Rich was silk screening our shirts; and we were hand dying them and drying them on the clothesline behind our apartment across from LACMA. It makes me think of late nights at Kinko’s pasting up show fliers and art for the singles, meeting other bands, and making new friends as varied as Caroliner Rainbow, Unsane, Jawbreaker, and Lois. It reminds me of the bloat of the music industry before it was about to implode, a huge shift in the music scenes of L.A.  (the death of hair metal, the rise of Riot Grrrl) the true breakthrough of international music which we were listening to a lot of (Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Baba Mal, Master Musicians of Jujuka, Buddhist Chants, etc), the rapid growth of rap and hip hop, and watching Twin Peaks. Also eating toast at Ship’s coffee shop.

For me, our music was more like therapy when performed live. That energy onstage with the rest of the band was like being in the eye of a sonic tornado. I thought about the shows of other bands I liked and remembered best, and thought I wanted to do the same: to give someone in the audience a worthwhile performance. At the same time, I always ended up losing myself in the music and could just be in the immediacy of the moment. Listening to the recordings can also be somewhat melancholic, like seeing old photographs or hearing a story about an old friend who has passed away. It brings up a lot of feelings about the past and how seemingly simple those days were. You treasure them, are proud of them, but know those times are gone. What did David Bowie say? “Things that happened yesterday, only happened in our minds”?

Michael B.: Yes to both. It brings up a lot of memories–some wonderful and some very sad. After Slug, I went through a very troubled period of my life which got progressively worse (addiction, HIV, divorce, homelessness, and prison) so the songs definitely makes me reflect on a more innocent, less complicated time. For the record, I’m doing well now: 8-1/2 years clean, remarried, good health and back in school to get my Master’s in Counseling. Put that in your article to make me sound good!

Martin: When are the physical copies with photos and essays and stuff going to happen?
Steve: We’ve flirted with the idea of re-issuing the physical media over the years, but it just hasn’t come to fruition. I would love to have great pressings of the re-mastered songs out in the world. We’re open to ideas, suggestions, and offers if anyone cares enough. It’s something we’ll be pursuing as more Slug material is re-mastered by us.

Tomas: We’re seeking label partners with resources to help with that side of things. If there is interest and we can find a good label to work with then it’ll happen. We have the raw material (music, photos, text). We just need a good label to work with.

Michael B.: When you find out, let me know.

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Martin: Has the process got a lot of you back in the same room or has everything happened via texts and email?
Michael B: Since I’m in St. Louis now, the only contact I’ve really had has been through the rare email with Steve (and Rich via Facebook).

Tomas: Texts and emails mostly, with personal visits when we’re in each other’s respective cities. Steve, Damion, and Dave Stone are in L.A., I’m in the Bay Area and Collin and Todd are Back East,

Steve: I still see Damion every week as he and I still DJ our radio shows back-to-back on KXLU. Everyone else has fled the coop, but I often check out pictures of Rich (McKinley) skating in Santa Cruz. I see Todd and Tomas once or twice a year and Michael B. and I talk once in a blue moon. I  run into Dave Stone around every so often, and Collin and I talk about music and meet up when he’s in town…Mostly the reissues has been facilitated through the miracle of computers, but sometimes over the miracle of coffee and pie, too.

Martin: Think you could pull of some of the songs live? Maybe just a few. On a small stage. Maybe at one of our Save Music in Chinatown benefit shows since Jabberjaw is no longer around…
Tomas: Ha ha! We’d love to do that some time Martin. Let’s hope fate makes that happen some time soon.

Todd: It’s fun to think about abstractly, but when the idea was brought up as part of the Jabberjaw anniversary a few years ago, I had to vote against us participating. Besides the logistics of it, I’d selfishly hate to sully my personal memories of what we were 20 years ago by pretending to have any chance of capturing that energy again. Our lives are all very different now and, with that in mind, Tomas’ answer to question 4 above is probably the best argument against us playing live again.

Michael B.: I still have the same strings on my bass that I had for my last show with Slug (’94?) so my part would sound kind of skeezy. Then again, my stuff always sounded really skeezy in comparison to the other guys. (And before you ask, Mr. Writer Man, yes “skeezy” is a word.)

Personally, I’d love to have a chance to play one more time for nostalgia’s sake as I have no creative outlets whatsoever and hold onto my time in Slug as “my salad days,” kind of like the high school football player who still goes to the games long after he’s graduated. But I think the rest of the guys have pretty much moved on and grown artistically with other outlets. I have no contact with Damion whatsoever (I miss the little guy) but from what I understand, musically Slug is just not his thing anymore and I can’t imagine Slug being Slug without that wall of immenseness he created with just four simple strings.

Maybe I could be like Greg Ginn and do a Black Flag maneuver… I’d have to find some amazing musicians to mask my ineptitude, though.

Steve: I have no doubt in my mind we could pull off the songs live, but it would take some large efforts on all of our parts. We are scattered all across the U.S., so logistics as well as Father Time tend to put the kibosh on any realistic hope of getting together. Then consider practicing and stripping off enough rust to do the songs justice. I would be there in a heartbeat, but it’s highly doubtful at this stage of the game.

It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop seeing shows in Chinatown, though…

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Check out Slug at slugla.com and buy the music at slug.bandcamp.com.